Film: Apollo 13

"We never lost an American in space. We're sure as hell not gonna' lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option!"

"Houston, we have a problem."
Jim Lovell

In 1970, the Apollo 13 was launched, headed for the moon. But this ill-fated flight would never reach its goal. Instead, its crew would have to handle another crisis - one which endangers not only the mission, but their very lives. But this 1995 movie is no sci-fi epic. Based on actual events, Apollo 13 depicts real history.

When an explosion rocks the service module, the crew soon realizes that the oxygen tanks aboard the Command Module Odyssey are leaking, forcing Mission Control to abort the landing. The crew shut down Odyssey and power up the Lunar Module Aquarius (which normally could only support two men for a few days) to act as a lifeboat as they slingshot around the far side of the moon. Only ingenuity and the ability to keep their wits about them will allow them to get home safely...

Based on Jim Lovell's book on his experience, Lost Moon. In an interesting example, he shot the book idea past publishers, publishers got excited and sent it to filmmakers who immediately started bidding on it, and then someone called Lovell and said Imagine Entertainment was going to make a movie based on it. He hadn't finished the book yet!

Director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer, and star Tom Hanks went on to produce the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

Make sure you listen to the commentary track by the real Jim and Marilyn Lovell.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: On day 6, a fit of cabin fever leads to the crew ripping off their bio-med sensors. While the flight surgeon was exasperated to say the least, Gene Kranz was rather amused.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Gary Sinise is a lot more handsome than Ken Mattingly was.
  • Air Voyance:
    • When Lovell takes off for Florida, his wife watches from the yard as his plane flies over the house. Justified by the plane being a white T-38 Talon, and also by the likelihood that Lovell would have set up his flight plan specifically to allow the pass. (NASA has maintained a fleet of T-38s, as chase planes and astronaut trainer/taxis, for a very long time, and the agency's fleet livery is white with sky blue pinstriping which wouldn't have been visible from the ground.)
    • Taken Up to Eleven in a later scene, where Lovell looks down at the Earth through a window in the lunar module, and his wife stares back up at him from her living room.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: Initially played deathly straight, as the Odyssey depends on the rapidly venting liquid oxygen for power as well as simple breathing. Inverted once Aquarius is online; due to multiple planned moonwalks (which would have required venting the entire LEM for each moonwalk, and repressurizing after each one as well), they have plenty of breathing oxygen, but they also have too much CO2 in their air. They need to MacGyver a carbon dioxide filter in order to avoid Hypercapnia. See Duct Tape for Everything, below.
  • And Mission Control Rejoiced: They go absolutely nuts after Lovell's answer of the hail from CAPCOM confirms that the astronauts survived.
  • Artificial Gravity: Inverted; zero-gravity sequences were filmed on NASA's KC-135 plane, nicknamed the "Vomit Comet." The three actors playing astronauts in this film have, in fact, more hours in the "Vomit Comet" than any actual astronauts!
    • Of course, there are a good number of scenes where they do it the old-fashioned way: standing on boxes pretending to float.
    • Ron Howard's initial idea was to film the weightless scenes on the Space Shuttle. This was understandably a logistical impossibility, but NASA allowed the use of the Vomit Comet as an alternative.
      Tom Hanks: For actors, being able to actually shoot in zero gravity as opposed to being in incredibly painful and uncomfortable harnesses for special effects shots was all the difference between what would have been a horrible moviemaking experience as opposed to the completely glorious one that it actually was.
  • Artistic License: The three astronauts remained surprisingly cool under pressure in real life (let's face it, you don't get to be an astronaut if you don't have Nerves of Steel), but the movie ramped up emotional tensions between them for dramatic effect. If you're the space-buff sort, you can read the flight's entire transcript and compare it to the film adaptation. In short, the film heightens what both astronauts and engineers were already contemplating before several of the film's crises actually occurred (such as CO2 scrubbing).
    • The spacecraft sets and mission control sets were not artistic license. They were so period accurate that they can be mistaken for the real thing. The space suits worn by the actors were practically exact replicas of the space suits Apollo astronauts wore. One person that visited the Mission Control set (a full re-creation), after leaving the set, was looking for the elevator afterward (the original Mission Control was on the third floor of its building; the set was built on the ground level)—the set was that accurate.
  • Badass: It's a movie about NASA, during a period in which the US government was serious about manned space flight. Nothing more needs to be said.
  • Badass Boast: "If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it."
    • Gene frickin' Kranz: The character's famous line is a bit of Artistic License as the real Kranz did not say this, but let's all pretend that he did, m'kay?note 
    "We never lost an American in space, we're sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option!"
  • Badass Bookworm: It's NASA, come on.
    • The guy who comes up with the design of the jury-rigged CO2 filter earns the title of "Steely-eyed missile man". Also, John Aaron, the original "steely-eyed missile man" from Apollo 12. His role in the movie is an expanded pastiche of himself and quite a few other people, but he really was there and played a critical role in coming up with the reduced-power bootup sequence for the CM.
  • The Big Board: Two different boards are used for this purpose:
    • There's the more traditional (trope-wise) big board at the front of mission control showing, at various times in the movie, plot-relevant status updates of the mission (i.e., status of the main engines, the current position of the astronauts, etc.)
    • After the explosion and Kranz calls a meeting in a side room, he uses a chalkboard to draw the Earth, moon, and the current position of the astronauts - for the audience, this is used to explain what is meant by "free-return trajectory" vs. "direct abort", as well as (later on) how far 45 hours would get the astronauts. (He first tried using an overhead projector, but, appropriately, it malfunctioned when he tried to use it.)
  • Big "YES!": The entire world's reaction, in general, when, after more than 4 minutes of radio silence...
    "Hello, Houston, this is Odyssey. It's good to see you again." (More Artistic License as Jack, not Jim, simply said, "Okay, Joe..." in the real mission.)
  • Billions of Buttons: So many, in fact, that NASA sent Dave Scott, the commander of Apollo 15, as a button wrangler to make sure they did it right.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Apollo 13 was called a "successful failure", in that they returned home safely, but did not land on the moon as originally intended, making Jim Lovell the only Apollo astronaut who flew to the moon twice without landingnote .
    • Though, if it can be said to be a consolation, Lovell has, by virtue of his location in the craft at the apogee of their journey on Apollo 10, the record for being further away from the earth than any other human in history. It's no moon landing, but until and unless we ever actually send someone to Mars, it's a record unlikely to ever be broken.
    • The real bittersweet ending aspect is that Lowell, from the perspective of 1995, asks with a tinge of bitterness when mankind will ever return to the Moon. As of 2015, no one has stepped on the Moon since the Apollo program.
  • Brick Joke:
    • During the in-flight broadcast, Jack Swigert mentions that he forgot to file his taxes. Later, he's informed that the president granted him an extension on his taxes, since he is "most decidedly out of the country."
    • Ken Mattingly gets bumped from the flight of Apollo 13 because of exposure to the measles. Later, as they're preparing to reenter the Earth's atmosphere, Mattingly takes CAPCOM. Lovell asks him, "Are the flowers blooming in Houston?" Mattingly replies, "Uh, that's a negative, Jim, I don't have the measles," as he glares at the flight surgeon. The final narration states that Mattingly never got measles.
    • The crew 'mutiny' by ripping off their medical monitors. Guess what Haise can be seen throwing around later when the crew needs to adjust the weight on the ship?
    • The confusion over VOX (basically, a toggled-on mic). Early on, right after the initial catastrophe, tense shouting goes on aboard Apollo 13 over obvious things that Mission Control is telling them, and Mission Control tells them that they're hearing every swear word and yell that the crew is saying. Later on, during another tense moment caused by stir-craziness (and possibly low-level CO2 poisoning), Mission Control chimes in again, and the first thing Lovell yells is "Are we on VOX?!?!" remembering the last time. They weren't, and he immediately collects himself.
    • The film answers the question that Lovell declines to respond to the lady reporter - how does one go potty in space. (That joke was done specifically because that is one of the most often asked questions of astronauts.)
      • Theres a second, glossed over reason for including that scene: note that it's Fred Haise that's using the pee tube; though not actually mentioned in the film, in real life, it was a urinary tract infection that made Haise ill during the voyage. (Not the measles, and not "the clap" as Fred jokingly suggested later.)
  • Butt Monkey: From getting crap for bumping Mattingly from the mission to a later "medical mutiny", the poor Flight Surgeon can't catch a break.
  • The Cameo: Aside from Ron Howard's relatives, he also put in movie producer Roger Corman (as the congressman who questions continuing the Apollo program) and Todd Hallowell, the film's Executive Producer, (as the guy that yells at Jim Lovell at a traffic light). Walter Cronkite does the prologue narration.
  • The Captain:
    • Gene Kranz at Mission Control is a model leader who commands respect. Unassuming but firm, he's cool on many levels; he's calm and collected, exactly what is required when time is at the essence, makes critical, unprecedented and right decisions on his feet and never fails to be assertive but polite. When the occasion requires it he's stingy without being smug and proudly shoots down any defeatism. His empathy solidifies him as the perfect captain.
    • Jim Lovell obviously, the savvy, competent and balanced commander of the Apollo 13. Fittingly, he was officially Captain James Lovell, United States Navy. Also fittingly, the real Jim Lovell wore his old Navy captain's uniform for his cameo appearance in the film.
  • Captain Obvious: CAPCOM, which was just doing its job, but the astronauts were understandably tense.
    CAPCOM: Aquarius, watch that middle gimbal. We don't want you tumbling off into space.
    Jim Lovell: Freddo, inform Houston I'm well aware of the God-damned gimbals!
    Fred Haise, Sr.: [calmly] Roger that, Houston.
    Jim Lovell: I don't need to hear the obvious, I've got the frappin' 8-ball right in front of me!
    INCO: Andy, we're on VOX.
    CAPCOM: Aquarius, Houston. We have you both on VOX.
    Fred Haise, Sr.: You want what, you want us to go to VOX?
    • In another example of the attention to detail in the movie; Truth in Television. It was over 30 minutes before the Astronauts realized they had a Hot Mic, and Jim Lovell really did say "frappin'" over the radio.
  • The Casanova: Jack is depicted in the film as a ladies man who is introduced using sexual-spatial metaphors with a girl. He's also remarked as the first bachelor in space.
    • This is referenced by Fred Haise after he starts coming down with a nasty UTI during the mission. He speculates that "Swigert gave [him] the clap" by urinating in his relief tube.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Lovell has to choose between replacing Ken Mattingly or skipping the mission. Ken is not happy about the call, but recognizes it's a tough one and doesn't hold any grudge.
    • Well, not against Lovell anyway, but he's still pissed, especially at the Flight Surgeon.
  • Chekhov's Gun: We see the crew using duct tape for fairly mundane jobs earlier in the mission (such as taping bags of waste to the cabin wall so they don't drift around). The fact that they have a roll of the stuff on board becomes far more important later when they need it to build a make-shift adaptor for the lithium hydroxide canisters to scrub CO2 from the LM atmosphere.
  • Cherubic Choir: During re-entry and splashdown scenes.
  • Cold Equation: The lunar module was designed to support two men for two days. Now it had to support three men for four. Thankfully, there were enough resources to pull it off.
    Kranz: I don't care what anything was designed to do. I care about what it can do.
  • Composite Character:
    • Loren Dean is credited as "EECOM Arthur", but is given the role of several Houston flight controllers and engineers, most notably John Aaron, Mission Control's premier "steely-eyed missile man" who saved Apollo 12 months before when their Saturn V rocket was struck (several times) by lightning. The character is referred to as "John" a few times in dialogue, too, reinforcing that this character is indeed meant to represent him.
    • Ken Mattingly in the film was a composite of all the people who helped in the simulators to get the crew back.
  • Conflict Ball: One arises by way of Jack Swigert trying to bring to the crew's attention to a prediction he made of the module not having a steep enough return trajectory, before hitting his head and cursing out of frustration. The ensuing argument tips them off that they were all thinking slightly less rationally than usual, by Houston alerting them to their high carbon dioxide levels, and Haise's math error in calculating CO2 ratios around two people's breathing, not three.
  • Continuous Decompression: The dream sequence, apparently based on a real dream Marilyn Lovell had shortly before the launch.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: The craft was launched in a way to make it easy to get back to Earth - however this was the first time in human history where people were in a crippled spacecraft and had to get back home, and had to deal with the challenges of getting back to Earth and not merely bouncing off the atmosphere or burning up or dying and mummifying in orbit. The fastest way home would have been to turn the ship around and fire the service propulsion system (SPS) engine, which was twice as powerful as it needed to be. Kranz nixed this option as no one was sure how badly damaged the service module had become, and igniting that engine (where its fuels ignite on contact) would likely turn it into a much larger bomb than the oxygen tank. (This assumed that the SM had enough electricity or integrity to accept an ignition command.) The SPS engine had likely been damaged in the explosion as implied when Lovell observes it tumbling away during the last preparations, so Kranz's choice and the use of the Lunar Module with its life support systems intact was the right thing to do. The film's depiction of the SM damage compared to a photo taken by the real astronauts, is spot-on.
  • Cool Car: Jim and Ken drive striking sport cars. Truth in Television, as auto makers at the time loved to give discounted (or even free) models to the astronauts so they could market their latest cars as "the choice of the astronauts!" Corvettes like Jim's were particularly popular with the astronaut corps.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Averted in the movie for dramatic purposes; in reality, even the off-the-wall stuff was largely dusting off prepared contingencies and stringing them together. The CO2 scrubbers, for example, were a contingency developed during the preparation for Apollo 8; the terminator burn was likewise an existing contingency, one Lovell himself had *actually used* on the real Apollo 8 mission after accidentally deleting a navigational data entry. Lovell had also been part of an "LM as lifeboat" drill aboard Apollo 8.
    • As an aversion, Lovell himself has said, "If we planned for every single possible contingency, I'd still be training for this mission." Keep in mind that he said this in an interview thirty years later.
  • Cyanide Pill: Lovell makes reference to the popular story around NASA regarding these in the memoir the film was based on. (They weren't real, though.)
  • Danger Deadpan: Because astronauts are just awesome like that.
  • Darkest Hour: The American space program is on the brink of one its major disasters, but it's successfully inverted.
    Chris Kraft: This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever faced.
    Gene Kranz: With all due respect, sir, I believe this will be our finest hour.
  • Decomposite Character: The team of engineers who figured how to make the Command Module's air filters fit the (incompatible) slots of the Lunar Module were a decomposition of a single engineer who devised the solution while driving to work.
  • Disaster Dominoes
    Walter Cronkite: ...And if anything else goes wrong, they'll be in real trouble.
    • As explained in the book, the actual mission included two other course correction burns and at least one additional serious problemnote , not shown in the movie. Ron Howard said he left these out for fear that the real story would be too melodramatic.
  • Disney Death: Communications black out during re-entry, and all the audience can see is Mission Control and Lovell's family awaiting for contact to be re-established. After three minutes (the longest a blackout had been sustained before a prior crew arrived safely), still no contact. After four minutes, still no contact. Eventually, there's contact, but the movie makes sure to make every character and every audience member sweat it out. In real life, the actual blackout lasted six minutes, nearly a minute and a half longer than expected.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Done not-at-all-subtly by Jack when he explains to a woman how the ship will link up with the lunar lander.
    • This foreshadows a later scene where he actually performs the manoeuvre in space and it causes a completely unsexual scraping noise.
  • Dream Team: Gene Kranz's White Team.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After he gets scrubbed from the mission so soon before liftoff, Ken Mattingly drinks heavily, switching off his TV in disgust at hearing talk show host Dick Cavett talking about his replacement Jack Swigert. He gets over that after learning about the accident. The real Mattingly was at Mission Control when the accident happened.
  • Duct Tape for Everything: Part of the solution for how they got home. It allowed the air filter for the command module to fit the (incompatible) filter opening for the lunar module, so that the astronauts would not choke on their own exhaled carbon dioxide. The duct tape was aboard the spacecraft in the first place simply as a means of stopping crap from floating around the cabin, a usage seen earlier in the movie.
    • Reportedly, when the real life engineer who eventually came up with that contraption learned that there was indeed duct tape aboard Apollo 13, he knew it could be fixed.
  • Everybody Smokes: Mission Control is stuffed to the vents with smokers and ashtrays are as prominent as flashing lights. Punctuated during the Go/No-Go sequence where the flight surgeon blows out a huge cloud of cigarette smoke.
    • Gene Kranz stated in a documentary that the "smell" of Mission Control was the mix of "cigarette smoke and boiled-over coffee pots."
    • Each station at Mission Control had a built-in ashtray. Enough said.
    • In addition to the time period in which the movie is set, given what they are going through the odds are that many of those engineers were lighting up more frequently than normal.
    • In the last few scenes, several flight controllers are smoking cigars to celebrate Apollo 13's homecoming. This was a real-life NASA tradition at the time.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: A lot of the characters in Mission Control are known only by their positionsóCAPCOM, RETRO, FAO, ectóeven in the film's credits.
  • Excessive Steam Syndrome, although the material being vented was oxygen rather than steam. As one of the flight controllers theorizes in the film, steam venting from a cooling system on the LM was responsible for the "shallowing" that threatened the re-entry. As water boils off into steam it takes heat with it, making it a pretty useful way of getting rid of excess heat in an environment where conduction and convection are out of the question. The LM was not meant to be powered up for the trans-lunar or trans-earth phases of the mission (it wasn't meant to be even attached any more for the trans-earth coast) so the effects of the steam vent had never been observed before.
    • Furthermore, the reason they ran out of electric power was because they ran out of oxygen to feed the fuel cells, a technology first used on Gemini spacecraft and readied for Apollo. In the cell, hydrogen and oxygen are combined at high temperatures, producing electricity... and steam, which was condensed into water for drinking and cooling.
  • Explosive Stupidity: Of the all too literal variety. The oxygen tanks used on Apollo 13 were initially designed for use in Apollo 10, which used about half the voltage as Apollo 13. When the ship's power output was upped, NASA told the people who designed the tank to plan accordingly. The parts were all replaced to run at the new voltage- except for one switch. This switch was attached to a thermometer, and was designed to break the circuit in the event the temperature rose above 80 degrees. 80 degrees is an utterly ridiculous temperature for an oxygen tank to run at, but, as luck would have it, Oxygen Tank 2 got knocked against the ground and a pipe knocked partway loose, decreasing its O2 output. The solution, when they discovered the decreased output in a test run, was to run the tank hot. The excess voltage fused the safety switch shut, and the backup thermometer wasn't designed to reach higher than 80 degrees, so no one knew that temperatures in excess of 1000 degrees had fried the casing off the wires... until it was too late.
  • Facepalm: Several. The level of frustration in the film runs extremely high, from malfunctioning equipment to accidents to outright stupidity, and the characters show it.
    • At one point, Flight Director Gene Kranz reacts with a subtle one and some exasperated snarking on learning that the only available spare carbon-dioxide scrubbers on the stricken spacecraft (from the dead Command Module) are square, and the receptacle for the only working scrubber system (in the Lunar Module) is round.
      Gene Kranz: (facepalm) Tell me this isn't a government operation... I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole. Rapidly.
    • Another one happens a little later on, when Mission Control macgyvers a solution, which includes using their spare urine bag. Which leads to this exchange:
    Fred Haise: Shit, I tore it.
    Jack Swigert: Shit.
    Fred Haise: Houston, what do we do if we rip the bag? Can we tape it?
    Andy (CAPCOM - WHITE): They just tore the bag.
    Technician (facepalming): Oh, no.
    • Gene does this at the end just after Odyssey has reestablished contact with Mission Control after reentry. However, this one is not out of frustration, just relief that the ordeal for everyone is over.
  • Failsafe Failure: "It's reading a quadruple failure - that can't happen." Normally true. The flight controllers normally see issues as matters of bad telemetry or sensors that fail. That's "instrumentation" problems. But when they verify their data to observation...
    • Another case of Truth in Television. After the mission, Jack Swigert told LIFE magazine that if the crew had been given this type of scenario during a simulation, they would have complained about it "not being realistic."
  • Failure Is the Only Option: The Inverted Trope Namer: "Failure is not an option!"
  • Fight to Survive: An epic struggle both in space and back in Mission Control to get the three astronauts back home alive.
  • The Film of the Book: Started even before the book, "Lost Moon," was finished.
  • Flatline: The flight surgeon at the control room freaks out when the astronauts' monitors flatline, but they hear their voices through the radios fine, and the director assures him that the astronauts simply took their medical leads off. They did so because they were tired of hearing the operators fuss about their medical condition. Given that they were freezing, exhausted (unable to properly sleep), Haise was legitimately sick, and they were all under incredible stress, the flight surgeon had actual cause to be concerned for their health, but the astronauts were having none of it. (This was Artistic License in part. Jack Swigert couldn't use the biomed system because the LM only had connections for Fred and Jim.)
  • Foregone Conclusion: But no less tense and gripping for all that.
  • Good Is Boring: All the networks dropped the Apollo 13 live broadcast - but took up coverage the moment things went bad.
    • Viewer and network coverage complacency about the launch was made worse because Apollo 12's flight was virtually videoless due to the accidental destruction of their only video camera while on the moon (the camera was accidentally pointed into the sun). Almost two years passed before viewers could care about seeing a man walk on the moon again.
    Marilyn Lovell: (arriving at NASA to watch it) Where's their broadcast?
    Henry: All the networks dumped us. One of them said we make goin' to the moon as exciting as taking a trip to Pittsburgh.
    • Later, Marilyn is understandably angry when she gets a request from the news networks to put a tower for live broadcast on her lawn:
    Marilyn: I thought they didn't care about this mission. They didn't even run Jim's show.
    Henry: Well, it's more dramatic now. Suddenly people are...
    Marilyn: Landing on the moon wasn't dramatic enough for them - why should NOT landing on it be?
    Henry: Look, I, um, I realize how hard this is, Marilyn, but the whole world is caught up in this, it's historic-...
    Marilyn: No, Henry! Those people don't put one piece of equipment on my lawn. If they have a problem with that, they can take it up with my husband. He'll be HOME... on FRIDAY!
  • Good with Numbers: Lovell, while under the pressure of the accident and threat of imminent death, performs the required calculations to activate Aquarius, in his head, while trying to keep himself and the rest of his crew alive. He asks Mission Control to double check his numbers, which they do with freaking slide rules and pronounce his calculations accurate.
    • In real life, the reason Lovell asked for his figures to be checked from the ground was because he'd actually failed tests of his math skills in less stressful situations, so he sure as heck didn't trust them in the midst of a disaster, at least without another set of eyes to check his work.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: "I don't need to hear the obvious, I've got the frapping eight ball right in front of me!"
    • Truth in Television on this one. The crew of a previous mission (Apollo 10) had been admonished for using somewhat harsher language on the radio, so all the astronauts were told to avoid using profanities in transmission.
    • In the audio commentary track for the Laserdisc/DVD, Jim Lovell protests the inaccuracy of this line, claiming he didn't use any profanity. (Most likely, he was protesting the use of "god-damned" a few lines earlier in the scene, since "frapping" was also in the official NASA transcript.)
  • Grasp the Sun: On Earth, Lovell closes one eye to 'cover' the moon with his thumb. Later, from his spacecraft, he does the same to the Earth.
  • The Great Repair: The second and third act.
  • Historical In-Joke
    • During the live broadcast, the CAPCOM notes, "When I go up on 19, I'm gonna bring my entire collection of Johnny Cash along." Sadly, Apollo 17 was the last mission to go to the moon. (This was also a reference to the fact that most of the CAPCOMs at the time were fellow astronauts, either members of past Apollo missions or in-training for future missions.)
    • During the watch of the Apollo 11 lunar landing broadcast, Pete Conrad jokes that it's a dress rehearsal of his Apollo 12 landing. Sadly, Apollo 12's camera was accidentally pointed into the sun during the broadcast, frying the camera and leaving them unable to broadcast the excursions.
    • During the LM inspection TV broadcast, Fred sets a tape recorder going, playing Spirit In The Sky. Jim comments that it was meant to be the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey in honour of Odyssey, their command module. The intended music was played on the real Apollo 13 broadcast.
  • Hollywood Science: Mostly averted. One great example: After the explosion, pieces of debris surround and follow the spacecraft (as much of the drifting debris must share the same velocity as the spacecraft since there is no air to create drag). The debris logically disappears after the (off-screen) PC+2 burn to get the crew home as fast as possible.
  • Humans Are Special: Jim Lovell, very drunk, is lying on a recliner in his back yard looking up at the moon, after the successful landing of Apollo 11. He explains to his wife why this trope applies:
    "From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it's not a miracle. We just decided to go."
  • Humble Hero: Lovell. When Swigert introduces him to Tracy, he starts telling her about Lovell's impressive NASA record, and Lovell acts mildly embarrassed. He also tells a tour group that "the astronaut is only the most visible member of a very large team" and that everyone involved with the Apollo program is honored to be part of it.
  • If I Had a Nickel: Raise your hand if you are reassured by this next statement:
    Jim Lovell: Well... if I had a dollar for every time they've killed me in this thing [the Apollo flight simulator], I wouldn't have to work for you, Deke.
  • Ignored Vital News Reports: The grounded astronaut Ken Mattingly turns off his TV just before the ABC News special report comes on.
  • Imagine Spot: When Lovell notices their landing site a short day dream sequence scene ensues, with Aquarius landed on the surface and Jim taking his first steps in the lunar landscape.
  • Improbable Piloting Skills: Improbable maybe, but completely true. Improbable flying skills are part of the job description.
  • Is This Thing On? / Is This Thing Still On?: Sometimes they turn the connection to CAPCOM on and off. Sometimes they forget.
    Are we on VOX?!note 
  • It Has Been an Honor: "Gentlemen, it's been a privilege flying with you."
  • Kinda Busy Here: Jack's called about replacing Mattingly during shower sex.
  • Let Them Die Happy: A variation as the titular spacecraft is finally about to re-enter the atmosphere after so much has gone wrong, and mission control sees they are drifting off course.
    RETRO: Flight, they're still shallowing a bit up there. Do you want to tell them?
    Gene Kranz: Anything we can do about it?
    RETRO: Not now, Flight.
    Gene Kranz: Then they don't need to know, do they?
    RETRO: Copy that.
  • Literal Metaphor: The carbon dioxide levels on the Lunar Module are rising faster than the LM's air filters can handle. But the Command Module's filters, which can handle it, are square, whereas the LM's filters are round. So NASA's engineers have to actually put a square peg into a round hole, promptly lampshaded by Kranz.
  • Lost Wedding Ring: This sequence was only slightly exaggerated for teh dramaz, though the initial Los Angeles Times review criticized this "invention." Marilyn Lovell did drop her wedding ring in the shower, but she was able to retrieve it; still, the experience was less than reassuring.
  • MacGyvering: The engineers and the astronauts had to do this to adapt the lander's completely differently designed air filters with the command module's before the crew suffocated. They eventually put together a solution that involves duct tape, a plastic baggie, a sock, and the cover of their flight manual. (Unfortunately, the great scene where the engineers run in carrying all the gear that the craft would have and saying they have to make a filter adapter out of that pile didn't happen in real life; an engineer figured it out on the drive to his workplace when called up for the emergency.)
  • Manly Tears/Tears of Joy: Gene Kranz sheds some when they regain communication with the Odyssey after the ship has safely survived reentry.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": Lovell's report that the spacecraft is venting results in this, from his fellow astronauts and all of Mission Control.
  • Meaningful Name: The Command Module is called Odyssey, in reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it also refers to Homer's The Odyssey, a quintessential tale about an epic long voyage home.
  • Midair Bobbing:
    • An artifact of the filming process. The actors in the spacecraft really are in freefall, as mentioned in the Artificial Gravity entry above, but the set is attached to the KC-135; as the plane is buffeted by the atmosphere, the set actually bobs around the actors, making it look like they're shifting about even when they're not touching any walls.
    • A large portion of the spacecraft shots were done on a sound stage in normal gravity, with the actors required to fake weightlessness; however, because the actors had already filmed in freefall, they were able to adjust their behavior accordingly, and the intercutting of KC-135 and stage shots made the effects less noticeable.
  • Midair Repair: Mid-space repair, as the crew has to nurse their stricken spacecraft around the moon and back home.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Marilyn Lovell did come to Mission Control to see the astronauts broadcast. The explosion happened between her leaving mission control and getting home. Good thing they waited until after the broadcast to stir the tanks.
  • Missed the Call: If Ken Mattingly had had the measles like everyone else, he would have been clear to go. He's pulled and replaced by Jack Swigert two days before the launch. Mattingly eventually did fly Apollo 16, which successfully landed on the moon.
  • Mission Control: The real kind.
  • Mood Whiplash: Cuts right from Jack Swigert's reaction to being told he's going to the moon to Ken Mattingly's reaction to being told he's not going to the moon...
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: The mission was going to be flight commander Jim Lovell's Crowning Moment of Awesome. He was planning on retiring from NASA after this mission, and what better way to do it than by walking on the moon, after previously flying to it on Apollo 8. Unfortunately, an explosion in mid-flight means having to abort the moon landing, thereby making Lovell the only astronaut to travel to the moon twice without actually landing.
  • New Meat: The Saturn V launch scenes make it very obvious that Lovell is the only crew member who has flown in space before (specifically, Apollo 13 was his fourth flight overall and his second flight launched on a Saturn V). He knows what all the pre-launch background noises are, and he knows when to warn the crew about "a little jolt."
  • No Antagonist: The damage was accidental and not sabotage, the astronauts argue but cooperate, and NASA is honest and labors to get their men back. Characters such as the flight surgeon, the jackalesque media and the political liaisons come off unsympathetic or callous, but that's all.
  • Nobody Poops: Jim laments that they can't show how the bathrooms aboard the module work during their live broadcast. We then get a beautiful shot of his pee spraying out into space. They also have to resort to bagging their waste once the emergency occurs, as dumping it would only throw off their trajectory.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Joe Spano's character is listed simply as "NASA Director" but was apparently loosely based on Chris Kraft. For dramatic purposes the character is a bit of a doomsayer (in contrast to Gene "Failure is not an option" Kranz), so they probably left him unnamed because Kraft is simply too highly regarded for NASA to tolerate him being portrayed negatively.
  • Noodle Implements: The materials Mission Control tells the astronauts to gather (to MacGyver another air filter for the LEM) include suit hoses, a flight plan cover, 2 lithium hydroxide cannisters, duct tape, and one sock.
  • No Phones Tonight: Ken Mattingly takes his off the hook and goes to bed, forcing fellow astronaut John Young to come wake him up after the explosion.
  • Nothing But Hits: Anytime anyone is listening to the radio, and "Spirit in the Sky" on tape during the mission. (The last one gets a lampshade hung by Lovell, who mentions the soundtrack was switched—in real life, the music was Also sprach Zarathustra by Strauss, as Lovell in-film said it should have been.)
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Three minutes of radio silence was the longest any previous mission had gone during a successful reentry. Apollo 13 was out of contact for four. With everything that had gone on up till then, this was the most nerve-wracking four minutes in NASA history.
    • In real life the radio blackout was six minutes, nearly a minute and a half longer than expected due to the reentry angle being significantly shallower than any previous mission. More time in the low density upper atmosphere meant it took them much longer to slow down to the point that the air ahead of them was no longer being heated by compression into a plasma (which radio signals can't penetrate).
  • Not Me This Time: Fred Haise has been using the cabin repress valve, which causes a sharp banging sound, to mess with the other astronauts. When the oxygen tank explodes and the entire ship starts shaking, he rushes in saying, "That's no repress valve!"
  • Oh Crap!:
    • The moment when everyone, crew and ground control alike, realizes that whatever has happened, it's a major problem.
      Jim Lovell: Houston, we are venting something into space.
      • Which is absolutely true. According to Lovell in his book, the one thing no Commander on ANY space mission wants to see is his craft "bleeding."
      • Moments later, the worst-case scenario is confirmed.
      Jim Lovell: It's got to be the oxygen.
    • A bit later, they get a brutal lesson in exactly why the LEM power-up checklist is three hours long:
      Jim Lovell: Houston, be aware, our RCS isn't up yet! We have no attitude control on Aquarius!
    • And again, when they get their first look at the damage after separating the service module.
      Jim Lovell: Houston, we're getting our first look at the service module now. One whole side of the spacecraft is missing. Right by the high gain antenna, a whole panel is blown out. Right up... right up to our heat shield.
    • The moment that it really hits how screwed they are:
    Lovell: Freddo, how long does it take to power up the LEM?
    Haise: Three hours, by the checklist.
    Lovell: We don't have that much time.
    Haise: Shiiiiiit... (hurries into the LEM)
    • This is followed moments later with:
    Lovell: We've got fifteen minutes, Freddo, it's worse than I thought.
    • A small one happens when Jim irately demands that Mission Control give them the command module power-up procedure only to have Deke Slayton cut in on the radio to tell him to be patient. The Apollo 13 astronauts knew full well that only the CAPCOM officer at Mission Control was supposed to communicate with the flight crew directly; so when their boss Deke broke protocol and personally got on the radio to talk to them, all three astronauts immediately realized the status of the power-up procedure:
    Jack: They don't know how to do it.
    • Upon discovering their air in the LEM is building up CO2 faster than anticipated, Haise realizes he forgot to adjust his calculations to include a third person (Lovell confirms on his commentary that this really did happen).
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. There are two Johns, John Young and John Aaron. Sometimes they're in the same scene and both respond when people don't specify which John they're asking for.
  • One-Woman Wail: During the loss of communications as they pass behind the moon (courtesy of Annie Lennox).
  • Phlebotinum Analogy: News anchors describing how narrow of a window the Odyssey has for a safe reentry.
    In order to enter the atmosphere safely, the crew must aim for a corridor just two and a half degrees wide. ... The reentry corridor is, in fact, so narrow that if this basketball were the Earth, and this softball were the Moon, and the two were placed fourteen feet apart, the crew would have to hit a target no thicker than this piece of paper.
  • Practical Voice-Over: Used extensively here, as the crew's plight was a major news item. Some of the original news broadcasts, including Jules Bergman's interruption of The Dick Cavett Show, were used for the film.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation
  • Precision F-Strike: By Jim Lovell, upon being told that Ken Mattingly has to be replaced less than three days before liftoff:
    Jim: I have trained for the Fra Mauro highlands, and this is FLIGHT SURGEON HORSESHIT, Deke!
    • And later when there's problems in devising an ad-hoc power-up procedure before re-entry:
    NASA engineer: I'll get over to the simulator and get an estimate-
    Gene Kranz: (palm-slamming a file cabinet) GODDAMMIT! I don't WANT another estimate! I want the procedure! Now!
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    Kranz: Failure. Is not. An option!
  • Quieter Than Silence: The ambiance outside the capsule, as represented by... wind.
  • Readings Are Off the Scale: Like in most fictional versions, this is a Bad Thing in real life.
    Sy Liebergot: O2 Tank 2 not reading at all [...] It's—it's reading a quadruple failure—that can't happen... It's got to be instrumentation.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: A preview audience member criticized the "typical Hollywood ending", and even those familiar with the basic story have assumed that certain historically accurate parts of the film (most notably the scene where Marilyn Lovell loses her wedding ring) were invented for dramatic reasons.
    • The wedding ring shower scene was exaggerated somewhat. In real life, the ring did slip off her finger, but it was too big to fall through the drain cover and Marilyn was able to retrieve it.
    • On the other end of the spectrum, the astronauts were depicted more emotional than they actually behaved in order for the audience to connect with them easier. In reality, the astronauts kept a cool head at all times (all three had been test pilots, it comes with the territory) and no one could afford to spend time worrying.
    • At first stage ignition, the Saturn V launch shows great balls of fire blooming out from around the engines, and then shrinking right back down again. Jim Lovell commented on this, saying that many people believed that the film was merely being run backwards; however, actual footage of the launches shows the fireball retreating in this way, as the initial cloud of flames is sucked back through the base of the launch platform by the ever-increasing velocity of the exhaust plume. The unrealistic part of the film's launch (aside from the Saturn V's paint job for 13) were the holding arms, which all swing back simultaneously, not one by one.
    • Much of the astronaut's dialogue and their reactions are greatly exaggerated for drama. In particular, many comments by the cinematic Lovell were actually said by Fred Haise, according to the transcript. Also exaggerated for teh dramaz were Swigert's rookieness (the real Swigert was a solid pilot that also trained in many Command Module disaster scenarios) and Haise (that pointed out many problems in the real mission long before they came to pass).
  • Real Person Cameo:
    • The real Jim Lovell has a role as the captain of the aircraft carrier that recovers the crew after splashdown. This role is doubly appropriate, as Lovell is a retired Navy captain. He was originally going to appear as an admiral, but he told the producers something along the lines of "I retired as a captain so I'll be a captain."
    • The real Marilyn Lovell also has a cameo as one of the spectators at the launch.
  • Recognition Failure: Lovell's senile mother doesn't recognize Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they arrive to give support.
    • This also counts as a Historical Person Punchline. While Armstrong is mentioned a lot early in the film (and the 1969 moon landing shown), he and Buzz only first appear as characters in that scene, and are named by Marilyn only after telling them what to do.
  • Reentry Scare: It didn't help Marilyn and family to see ABC's Jules Bergman demonstrate re-entry by putting a blowtorch to a sample of the spacecraft's ablative heat shield to show how it was supposed to work.
  • Retirony: Narrowly averted; Jim Lovell announces that Apollo 13 is going to be his last mission.
  • Reverse the Polarity: Justified. Shortly before re-entry they needed "four more amps" to power up the Command Module. They used a circuit intended to provide power from the Command Module to the Lunar Module to do the opposite. It's mentioned that a lot of power is lost this way, as the circuit wasn't built for this, but it's good enough for what they need it to do here.
  • Rock Bottom: And then some.
    RETRO - WHITE: Flight, this is RETRO.
    RETRO: Flight. We are looking at a typhoon warning at the edge of the prime recovery zone.
    Kranz: Say again, RETRO.
    RETRO: Flight. We are looking at a typhoon warning on the edge of the prime recovery area, now this is just a warning, Flight, it could miss them.
    Kranz: Only if their luck changes.
  • Rousing Speech
    Gene Kranz: I want you guys to find every engineer who designed every switch, every circuit, every transistor and every light bulb that's up there. Then I want you to talk to the guy in the assembly line who actually built the thing. Find out how to squeeze every amp out of both of these goddamn machines. I want this mark all the way back to Earth with time to spare. We never lost an American in space, we're sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option!
    • Another great line from Kranz: "I don't care what anything was designed to do, I care about what it can do."
  • Science Hero: The three astronauts and most of the personnel at mission control. Their ingenuity turns a doomed scenario into one of NASA's finest hours.
  • Scotty Time: Played deadly serious here:
    Lovell: Freddo, how long does it take to power up the LEM?
    Haise: Three hours, by the checklist.
    Lovell: We don't have that much time.
    Haise: Shiiiiiit... (hurries into the LEM)
    • In fact, they had just 15 minutes to power up the lunar module before the command module lost too much battery power to survive for reentry. They only succeeded because they were ahead of schedule and LM was already partially powered up for a systems checkout.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Unsurprisingly, given the tense circumstances, those most aware of problems have to bear the brunt of others' frustration and impatience over things they have no control over. The astronauts get angry at the flight surgeon, who was simply doing what he needed to do to keep them safe (you really can't risk your command module pilot coming down with the measles during lunar orbit rendezvous). Of course, nobody wants to hear John Aaron tell they don't have enough power whenever they want to do something.
  • Shout-Out: The scene where Jim's Corvette stalls at a green light is a reference to a similar scene in American Graffiti, which Ron Howard starred in.
  • Shower of Love: Where Jack Swigert is when he gets the call that he's become the new pilot.
  • Shown Their Work: There are some inaccuracies, but they were minor and primarily in service of the Rule of Drama. The greatest changes were in the mission dialogue. The real astronauts rarely quibbled, much less argued, per the mission transcript. Tom Hank's character also "stole" lines that were often said by his crewmates.
  • Sinking Ship Scenario
  • The Sixties: The film is set in the transition between The Sixties and The '70s. As exemplified by Lovell's Bratty Teenage Daughter hippie attire and her brooding over "The stupid Beatles breaking up" (Paul McCartney resigned from the band on April 9, 1970, two days before Apollo 13's launch).
  • Space Is Cold: Justified as the real Apollo 13 did ice up. The spacecraft really did lose heat throughout the mission to the point where ice crystals were starting to form. The spacecraft designers knew that the electronics and fuel cells would generate a lot of heat, so they built the LEM and CM with plenty of radiator surfaces to dump the heat out into space. But with the fuel cells out of commission, and not enough power to run the electronics or cabin heaters...
  • Space Is Noisy: Lots of booming and hissing noises from the spacecraft, as shot from outside.
  • Spiritual Successor:
  • Stepford Smiler: The wives of the astronauts are very aware they should conceal their fears and put on a happy and cheery face for the media. Marilyn Lovell even schools Mary Haise about this.
    Marilyn: (sotto voce) Remember, proud, happy and thrilled.
  • The Stoic: Gene Kranz, as the flight director, has ultimate responsibility for the success or otherwise of the mission and the lives of the astronauts, yet he remains cool, calm and collected — which is why he was chosen to have ultimate responsibility for the success or otherwise of the mission and the lives of the astronauts. We only see two emotional outbursts from him in the entire movie, both entirely understandable. The first is when he allows his frustration to boil over regarding the lack of a powerup procedure for the command module that causes him to metaphorically Shoot the Messenger. The second is when it's clear that they've succeeded in getting the crew home. He collapses in his chair and sheds a few Manly Tears. In both cases he quickly regains his composure.
  • Stunned Silence: Mission Control after Lovell tells them "we are venting something into space".
  • Tactful Translation: See the quote under Captain Obvious, above.
  • Taught by Experience: Several of the procedures used had never been tested or even imagined, the technicians have to think on their feet.
  • Techno Babble: An example of Real Life technobabble, as much of the dialogue was taken from the actual recordings of the conversations between the astronauts and mission control, and is used in a more-or-less correct way. Also counts as a Bilingual Bonus if you're an engineer.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Mild examples here and there during moments of tension. Gene Kranz quickly puts an end to any bickering and there are some doubts about Jack, as he was a member of the backup team. At some point, Fred antagonizes and confronts Jack, but eventually gives him credit. There was no actual animosity between the crew, and even in the film it's clear that they're just reacting out of stress and fear. By the end, they're Fire-Forged Friends.
    Lovell: Gentlemen, it has been a privilege to fly with you.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • During the launch, after a second-stage engine failure is successfully worked around:
      Lovell: Our gimbals are good, our trim is good; looks like we just had our glitch for this mission.
    • NASA's attitude towards the number 13 prior to the mission - the mission number, liftoff at 1:13 PM (1313 in 24-hour time), entering lunar orbit on April 13th.
      Marilyn: Naturally, it's 13. Why 13?
      Jim: It comes after 12, hon.
    • After a reporter points the Thirteen Is Unlucky trope, Mattingly mocks him saying that he made a black cat pass over a broken mirror under the lunar module's stairs - and everything still looks okay!
  • Thirteen Is Unlucky: Lots of joking about this being Apollo mission #13 (see Tempting Fate above).
  • Tim Taylor Technology: Inverted. The crew had to consume as little power as possible during the trip back to Earth as the LM's batteries and water were normally only for 2 men for 3 days, not three men for five days. Furthermore, they had to ensure that their improvised CM power-up sequence didn't draw more than 20 amps (instead of the usual 65) from the CM's batteries, or they wouldn't have enough power to last through the whole reentry.
  • Typeset in the Future: The Eurostile Bold Extended font made popular by 2001: A Space Odyssey is used for the credits and on-screen messages like MANNED SPACECRAFT CENTER HOUSTON, TEXAS, THREE MONTHS PRIOR TO LAUNCH.
  • Understatement:
    • Yet again, "Houston, we have a problem."
    • The "little jolt" during the launch.
  • Vertigo Effect: When Lovell reports that they're venting something out into space, we get this shot on Gene Kranz's face.
  • Victory Is Boring: A congressman mentions that his constituents remark that the space program is pointless now that the US has beaten the Russians to the Moon.
    • Every single channel passes on the opportunity to broadcast the mission from the lunar module live. They only show interest when things begin to go bad.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: After launching, Fred Haise pukes out some small chunks of food, and some of it spatters on the camera lens. Yum.
  • Waistcoat of Style: In both the movie and Real Life, Flight Director Gene Kranz' wife sews him a vest before each flight.
    Jerry Bostick (FDO White): Mrs. Kranz has pulled out the old needle and thread again.
    Technician: Last one looked like he bought it off a gypsy.
    Jerry: Well, you can't argue with tradition.
    (Later, after Gene finally puts it on, with applause from all the technicians)
    Technician: Hey, Gene, I guess we can go to the moon now!
    • And Ed Harris was actually able, and permitted, to wear the very vest Gene Kranz wore for Apollo 13.
  • The Watson: Various characters serve as this to Jim Lovell in regards to space flight, particularly Jim's youngest son Jeffrey.
  • We Interrupt This Program: Quite often, to bring mission updates. Dramatically well-done by using actual footage from one of the era's most knowledgeable journalist experts, ABC's Science Editor Jules Bergman, with dramatic footage of Walter Cronkite during the drama. A fictitious series of network coverage filled in any other needed dramatic commentary.
  • Wham Line: "Houston, we have a problem" is the most notable, but also "Houston, we are venting something into space," and "a whole panel is blown out, right up... right up to our heat shield," which really makes everyone worry that all their efforts may have been for nothing.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Marilyn's lost wedding ring in the shower at the beginning of the movie is never brought up again nor resolved. In reality, she did get it back.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Narration by Hanks (in character as Lovell) describing the fates of the main characters.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: In his Imagine Spot, Jim imagines himself staring in awe at the distant Earth.
  • You Had Us Worried There

Failure is not an option!